By Sarah Squire

The fundraising pressure cooker

Many charity fundraisers are feeling the on the edge. Levels of stress, anxiety and burnout are on the rise.

And this is not surprising, given that our livelihoods rely on us hitting financial targets. And with many charities still feeling the impact of the pandemic, and the cost-of-living crisis impacting our supporters and donors, we are under pressure like never before.

And to add to this, we are also emotionally invested in our charities. Like most fundraisers, we believe in the difference our charity is making. But this also has its down side. This is because we know that if we aren’t successful at our jobs, projects and services may have to close down.

No wonder that we sometimes feel like we are living in a fundraising pressure cooker.

5 tips for avoiding fundraising burnout

So, how can you be a brilliant fundraiser, without burning out?

Here are five tips to help you survive (and even thrive) as a fundraiser:

 1. Change your mindset: As a fundraiser you are responsible for outputs, not outcomes. Here’s an example from the world of trust fundraising. You speak to the grants team to check you are eligible. You write a great application and submit it on time. After a nail-biting wait, the trust responds. They tell you that the Foundation is supporting a similar organisation in another part of the country. And for that reason, they are unable to support your charity. You have produced the outputs. But the outcome of the application is out of your control. So stop blaming yourself.

2. Learn ruthless time management: Having worked in hundreds of charities as a fundraising consultant, mentor, volunteer, trustee and employee, I know that there are always things we can do to manage our time better. Could you delegate that task? What fundraising activities could or must you drop to focus on the burning priorities?

3. Talk about it: Be open and honest with the people around you. Your colleagues, trustees, staff and even your donors. And if you are working a consultant or fundraising coach or mentor, that can be a great place to start. Admitting you are struggling is a good place to start. I’m a trustee of the halow Project, a brilliant charity that works across Surrey to support young adults with a learning disability. Last month, I took the difficult decision to step down from the board. Balancing paid work, with an unpaid trustee role and four teenagers, was just too much. Sharing my struggles with trustees and staff was so releasing for me. As one trustee said to me, it’s okay to admit that you are struggling.

4. Set boundaries: Setting yourself some boundaries, at work and at home can be a truly liberating experience. Boundaries at home, at work and with friends and family. There are some excellent books out there on the subject. Read one to help you learn when to say yes, how to say now and how to regain control of your life.

5. Learn from others: When you’re time poor, it can be so temping to get your head down and focus on the work. And the learning and personal development get dropped. That lunchtime seminar or conference you were going to attend. Reading the sector press and keeping up with sector trends.  Training. Personal development time. But these things are not just important in and of themselves. Although they ‘cost’ time, the networking with other fundraisers and fundraising experts will make all the difference. You will gain coping strategies from others. You will pick up tips and tricks on time management. You will gain insights on how other fundraisers manage their expectations of themselves and those of others.

Behaviour change: putting it into practice

Behaviour change isn’t easy. But it is possible.

I truly believe that with the right mindset, boundaries, and people around you, that you can implement changes that will improve your quality of life, fundraising effectiveness and well-being.

But in sector that is driven by short-term income targets and has been hit hard by the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, this is no mean feat.

So, if you’re wanting to survive (and even thrive) at fundraising, my advice is to keep it simple. Pick one of the tips that most resonates with you and implement one small change. Embed it. Let it become habitual before you work on implementing anything else.

Good luck!